Letting Go

I have mentioned it before, but I was a pretty big “weeb” back in the day. And honestly, I still am – but it was a much greater obsession in my teens. I collected manga for a long time, and managed to complete many series, mostly of the shoujo genre – which are manga aimed more toward girls. Fruits Basket is probably the most notable – and my favorite manga series to this day – but I also collected some lesser known series, or shorter ones. It was partially out of love for the books but I also was a bit of a completionist.

However, in a decluttering effort, I have been trying to sell some things and earn some extra cash. Quarantine has been rough, y’all – plus I used to watch a lot of Hoarders and don’t want to end up with a house full of junk because I do have obsessive tendencies and am a bit neurotic. And though that chapter of my life is mostly over – I still like manga, though I don’t really collect it any more – it was unexpectedly difficult to let go of things I once loved so much.

For reference, I had about 300+ volumes of various series. I am now down to under 50, and have a couple of series left to sell.

I am actually still trying to sell Happy Cafe, which is OOP, if anyone is interested.

The upside to all of this is that I did not know, as an awkward manga-loving teen, that my completionist ways would lead to me owning many series that have since got out of print or become quite rare, and are thus being sought by collectors. I haven’t been raking in the cash, per se, but I definitely made more than I spent! And I’m glad I could make some current collectors happy.

Some of those books have inspired me in ways that linger to this day, and though I no longer own them, I will remember the lessons they taught. Lovely Complex taught me that insecurities and differences can bring people together as much as it breaks them apart. Tokyo Mew Mew introduced me to the “magical girl” genre. Fruits Basket taught me that love is beautiful, and ugly, and kindness can always prevail over hatred. Beauty Pop taught me to follow my dreams and nurture my talents. Absolute Boyfriend taught me about the joys, and pitfalls, of first love, and the pain of loss.

Boxing them up and shipping them off was hard, and I almost backed out of a few transactions. But at the same time, it has been freeing to let go – to make it so someone else can find joy in the books I adored as a teen trying to make my way in the world. Although, between you and me… I am replacing my old Tokyopop Fruits Basket volumes with the more recent collector’s editions. Because they are beautiful, and I really do love the series.

Perhaps I’ll go through my Funko pops next…

Impractical

I know my last post was a bit of a downer. As such, I thought it would be a good idea to post about something a bit happier to follow-up.

While I’ve been wallowing in the doldrums of 2020, there have been a few glimmers of light peeking through the black clouds. And four of those glimmers are named Sal, Murr, Q, and Joe.

That’s right. Thanks to quarantine, I have developed an obsession with the TruTV show Impractical Jokers.

I actually have my sister to thank for this. She is part of my very limited social bubble, so, after she gave birth in September, I would go to her house on my days off or after work in the evenings to keep her company, and she had recently begun watching the show. Since it frequently graced the television screen at her house, we developed a mutual obsession for it. Though it’s been on the air for years, I’d never watched a moment of it until quarantine hit. I’ve been binge-watching the whole series on HBO Max at home since I don’t have cable, and I’ll even watch episodes over again because they retain the hilarity factor super well.

And y’all… it is damn funny. The hijinks they get into are equally cringe-worthy and laughter-inducing. Admittedly, it’s not a brand of humor I typically ascribe to (I’m a dark humor, sarcasm, parody/satire type of person) so I never bothered to watch before, but I have been effectively hooked by the antics of four life-long friends who compete to embarrass each other. It definitely helps that their real friendship lends to their incredible on-screen chemistry, but also makes the humor flow with ease instead of feeling forced. The guys genuinely make each other laugh, not just the audience – and that’s a big factor of their success.

Of course, there are times (particularly in earlier seasons) where the humor might be toeing the line a bit – there are some jokes that have made me go “Oh, nooooo…” out loud – but in general, it’s all in good fun. Very rarely does a show make me laugh out loud, and this one does it at least once per episode.

Though each Joker has their own appeal and their own distinct approach to pranks and tasks, Joe is definitely my favorite. “Scoopski potatoes” will never not make me laugh. But Sal’s “Kranjis McBasketball” is a close second.

In short, Impractical Jokers is “impractical” for me. I’m a fantasy, sci-fi, anime lover – my current watch list is The Mandalorian, His Dark Materials and Yashahime, among a couple of others – but sometimes, after a long and grueling day of work dealing with the Christmas-shopping horde, it is exactly what I need to make the stress melt away. Neither my sister nor I ever expected to become obsessed with it, but it really has brought joy to our lives during a difficult time.

If you’re feeling the stress of this holiday season, or feel buried in the depression of quarantine, maybe give something a little more “impractical” a go.

Worst

2020 has been the worst year of my life.

28 years in, and 2020 broke me. It broke me down, chewed me up, spit me out, then stomped all over me. Maybe it’s a quarter life crisis. Maybe the whole quarantine lifestyle got to me. Maybe the state of the world wore me out. Maybe the election (despite the favorable results) took a toll. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m deeply unhappy with where I am in my life. Maybe it’s the ever increasing persistence of my dysthymia. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

Kidding, it’s definitely not Maybelline. It is, however, likely a combination of all those other things. A big ol’ toxic cocktail. It’s very fortunate that I don’t really drink, because that would probably just make it all worse.

I mean, I totally get that I’m privileged. I have a job that was not majorly affected by the pandemic. I have a wonderful family, and my sister recently gave birth to my baby nephew, who is adorable. I have a nice place to live that is near my sister, and close enough to my parents. I don’t face persecution for the color of my skin or my sexual preference because I’m a straight, basic white girl. The Mandalorian is back. Starbucks holiday drinks are out.

But I find things difficult these days. More difficult than ever. My job is stressing me out and I can’t focus on anything for more than five seconds. I can’t even muster up the energy, when I am home, to do adequate chores or the typical life things I am supposed to do. Some days, when I’m not at work, I don’t even get out of bed for more than five minutes at a time. My health isn’t super great and I’ve gained 15 pounds. I had to make a heartbreaking personal decision. And, as the cherry on top of the terrible sundae, I have not written anything in months. MONTHS. Writing, and creating, is my passion, and I have done none of it for almost the entirety of 2020 because my mental state is so poor and I keep beating myself up about it.

So, yeah. 2020 fucking sucked. Did good things happen? Sure. Like I said, I have a brand spankin’ new nephew. Tr*mp will be out of office in January. I spoke to a book club about my book for the first time since it was published. But, in spite of these glimmers of positivity, that dark cloud is brewing over my head, and the storm has continuously blocked out the sun.

So, I don’t want to dwell on it. I’m not really a ‘woe is me’ person because I am fully aware that many, many other people have it much worse than I do. I know 2020 still has a little over a month to go, but I am, as cliché as it is, gearing up for 2021, because I don’t see much of a chance of it turning around in that time. And I know I’m not the only one.

I want to drag myself out of this hole I’ve fallen into. It won’t be easy, and I’ve spent a lot of time wallowing, and I am seeking help. But I’ll make 2021 the year of the climb, and I know I must take steps to make it so. So, for my fellow folks who have been broken by this past year, let’s get ready to put 2020 behind us, and let the sun in.

The Scarlet Letter

… is one of my least favorite books. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate its literary significance and the importance of the messages and themes expressed in Hawthorne’s famous novel. But – and I say this as someone who loves classic literature – it’s a downright slog to read. I’m glad that I read it, but I will never pick it up again.

I read The Scarlet Letter in 11th grade, back in 2009. And my teacher at the time had our class participate in an experiment to make us understand, to at least some degree, the trials and tribulations of the socially-condemned Hester Prynne.

We had to make a ‘letter’ and wear it around school as a brand for a day. So, if we considered our personal “flaw” or perceived “crime” to be greed, for example, we would make a “G” out of craft materials and pin it to our shirt. As a seventeen year old girl, I picked “A,” but not for adultery. It was for ‘anger.’

I was often angry in my teens, and that anger bled into and impacted several areas of my life. It caused me a lot of frustration, stress, and irritation. It was the root of many personal issues I was experiencing at the time, and vice versa. And I spent that whole day with an “A” on my shirt to announce it to the world… and really, all it did was make me angrier because friends/peers would constantly ask me, “what’s the ‘A’ for?” and it was annoying. But, I digress…

However, the lesson did, at the time, make me think about how anger was affecting my life. I have been able to let it go, per se, as I’ve grown older. And now, eleven years later, that lesson has crept back into the forefront of my mind. Anger is not what I would consider the ‘root’ of my issues now, but I might wear a different ‘A’ as a twenty-eight year old in the year 2020 – an ‘A’ for anxiety.

It might not be an obvious thing, nor does anyone make me march around town with some visible indication that I suffer from anxiety, thus allowing others to scorn me. Times have changed since the Puritan era. But I can feel that ‘A,’ burning a hole in my chest, every day. It is not visible, but I know that it is there. And, of late, it has been swallowing me. Part of it is definitely due to the state of the world at the moment, but there are also other roadblocks in my personal life that are making that “A” blaze brighter and brighter, if only on the inside. And there’s a big ol’ neon ‘D’ right beside it. It’s probably obvious what that stands for.

I am trying not to let it consume me. It’s difficult. I can feel the weight much heavier than ever before, and that creeping dread digs its fingers into my skin more often than usual. I mean, I know – I’m a basic white girl who has been afforded many opportunities in my life, so my issues are trivial in the grand scheme of things and when compared to what others are going through. This isn’t a ‘boo hoo, feel bad for me’ type post, it’s just cathartic to get it out there. And I know I’m not alone.

It does help a little to know that, even though we do not outwardly wear our own scarlet letters, everyone has at least one. And before judging others, I try to think what their own burdensome letter might be, and how it might weigh on them. Some guy cuts me off in traffic? He’s probably fighting his own battles. The person who ordered the last cake pop at Starbucks? Maybe they needed that sugar boost to get through the day more than I did. Knowing that we are not alone can make those letters feel a little smaller, even if, for some of us, they will never disappear entirely.

The ‘A’ may be heavy, but I do wear it with some measure of pride. It has not defeated me yet, nor will I let it.

Aunt Allie

I can’t believe I haven’t talked about this on my blog yet (I am a little behind) but I’m going to be an aunt! I technically already am – my sister has a stepson – but she is now pregnant with a little boy and is due in October.

It is also well-known in my circle that I do not like children.

This is a blanket statement, of course, and requires clarification. I am child-free, but I love the kids in my family, blood related and otherwise. I just do not relate easily to children and lack maternal instincts. Like… if a kid falls down at my job because they’re running around or doing something they’re not supposed to, I ain’t stopping to help them up. Kids are known to freeze in their tracks when I send “the glare” their way, and I had a reputation of being scary to children in my old neighborhood in MA, because no one would ring my doorbell during trick or treat for two years running. Those kids also shouldn’t have been playing in my yard, thus prompting me to yell at them a few times, but I digress…

Not liking children does not mean I am not stoked for my sister to have a baby, because I am! I love my step-nephew (or stephew, if you will) already – he is a polite and genuinely fun kid to be around, but having a baby around will be new territory.

We held her baby shower this past weekend, and it was awesome to see friends and family coming together to celebrate with masks and hand sanitizer on hand and as much social distancing as possible. I have felt bad for her because, with the state of the world right now, she hasn’t had what can be called a “normal” pregnancy, but I’m super glad she and the baby are both healthy, which is the most important thing.

My sister has been one of my few companions during this pandemic, and, if I ever don’t feel well, I make sure not to go around her. We’ve been going for walks and getting “starbies,” our standard white girl indulgences.

With my typical dislike of children, I never thought I’d be excited to be an aunt. But I really am – I’ve already got stuff for the baby’s third birthday, and when I go to the store, I usually pick up my stephew some Pokemon cards. Maybe it’s growth – part of getting older. I actually stop and look around the childrens/baby department at stores now instead of hustling by to avoid being around stranger’s spawn.

Now, does that mean I am warming to the idea of having my own children? Well…

ABSOLUTELY NOT. But Aunt Allie is ready to be the best aunt ever.

Deep Forest

Instead of doing a “current tunes” post, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about one song in particular, and that song is Fukai Mori (translation: Deep Forest) by Japanese band Do As Infinity.

Some folks may know this song as the 2nd ending theme for the anime Inuyasha, which is how I, as a young weeaboo back in the day where liking anime was “uncool”, came to know it as well. I actually started watching Inuyasha because I caught the ending theme on Adult Swim one day, and then watched entire episodes just to get to the ending so I could hear the song. Now I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel series slated to run this fall, but that’s another story entirely…

In 7th grade, the first thing I begged my mom to buy me on eBay was an Inuyasha soundtrack album so I could finally have Fukai Mori on CD. Within a couple of years, I owned three soundtrack CDs because I grew to love the entire musical library from the show all because of one song. It truly sparked my love of J-Pop music, and Do As Infinity remains one of my favorite bands. And to this day, Fukai Mori remains a stalwart presence on the soundtrack to my life.

I don’t know why it connects with me the way it does, but it stuck to me from the first time I heard it. It burrowed into my heart, and has inspired me in my lowest moments. At first, I didn’t understand the words – I’ve since read a translation, of course – but I could feel the song. It’s a song that will stay with me, if that makes any sense at all. It makes me think of the past – when I eagerly stayed up on Saturday nights to watch anime – and helps me feel hopeful for the future.

Does anyone else have a song like that – one that defines certain moments in their life, or attaches to them in some meaningful way?

Homebody

I am, by my own admission, a homebody.

Going out really isn’t my “thing.” Sure, I like to go out to dinner or partake in a social event or two as much as the next person, so I’m not hermit-level, but 6/7 days in the week if I’m not at work, I’m probably at home. I also get burned out from too much social interaction, so one might say the introversion is real.

This pandemic, however, has amped up my homebody-ness. My #1 favorite hobby is going to the movies – I typically go at least 50 times a year – but that is not possible right now, and for good reason. And I did not foresee, when all of this began, the impact not being able to “do things” would have on me. Since I am a homebody, I thought hunkering down wouldn’t effect me too much. I was wrong.

I do still have to go to work, so I’m not stuck in my house or anything, but I am also trying to be cautious when I must venture out. I’ve been to a restaurant twice since my state reopened, and both times sat outside, six feet away from others, and wore my mask before and after sitting down to eat. I’ve bought Star Wars masks, so I can brighten up my days a little. I am stocked with hand sanitizer. The only folks I’ve seen face to face to “hang out” are other folks who have been as careful as I have, which are mostly my parents and sister/bro in law.

But… I never thought I would miss doing things. My depression/anxiety has hit a major spike over the last couple of months. I haven’t read a book in months. And I know I’m not the only one affected like that, considering the current state of the country/world. Plus, I am very grateful that I have not gotten sick, and, fortunately, no one close to me has either.

This Sunday, the weather was hot, but not as humid and muggy as PA has been recently. It has been truly disgusting, but there was actually a bit of a breeze that afternoon, so my best friend and I took advantage and went on a nice long nature walk because, in my own words, “if I stay inside one more effing day I’m going to scream.” I prepared adequately, with my mask, lots of water, a protein smoothie, and big spray / sunscreen.

We trekked for eight miles, and it was beautiful. I felt, for the first time in a while, like I had found a tiny pocket of solace, and was able to funnel negative energy into something positive. I’d trod that path before, but it felt new and exciting. My calves are still burning three days later, but it was well worth it to indulge in nature for a bit, to feel the sun, and crunch the soil and stone beneath my sneakers.

And it gave me hope that we will reach the end of this trail, even if it seems a long way off.

Then, I’ll go back to being a homebody – on my own terms.

AF

So, my real name isn’t Allie Frost.

My real name is not a huge secret or anything, so I don’t particularly care if folks know it, but my actual initials are still AF. And I sign everything with my initials. Documents, emails, etc. I do have very poor, distinctive penmanship though, so forgery would be quite hard.

The other day, before a meeting at work, as I was settling down in a chair with my notepad and pen ready to go, my boss asked me, “Did you know your initials are internet slang for ‘as f*ck’?”

To which I replied, “Why do you think I sign everything with my initials?”

I mean… that’s not really why I do it, I do it because I’m lazy and my handwriting is atrocious, but still. I am fully aware of what my initials indicate in the internet/social media world. And my boss thought it was funny, so…

But now, hearing it aloud, it has struck me. The weight of those two letters.

I need to try to live my life not only as AF, but live my life af.

Try

I think it’s a safe bet to say that most folks have heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

I must admit, I am someone who has been known to try and then give up at the first whiff of an undesirable outcome. Contributing factors often include fear of failure, lack of confidence, severe anxiety, and, perhaps most common, a toxic combination of all three. Kind of a “why bother trying if you’ll probably fail,” type of mentality. And that mindset has plagued many facets of my life. My writing, my personal life, my career. Etc.

Well, obviously, “you can’t win them all,” is also a true statement, but that does not mean that one should not try. And I have decided to keep trying. Obstacles may be many, and they may be dire, and they may make me want to back down – but I’ll try. And I certainly won’t back down without even giving a solid attempt, as I’ve been known to do.

In an effort to take a small step in this direction, I have bought myself a bonsai tree growing kit.

This may seem bizarre, but I have long considered myself a failure at keeping plants alive…because I killed one once. So, I figured it was time to try again. I spotted a bonsai tree grow kit on a clearance shelf at Marshalls and thought it was perfect.

It will be a long journey – bonsai trees are not swift growers – but I am hopeful. Even if the seeds fail to sprout, it will be worth the effort, and I can always try again. And considering the first plant I killed was a succulent, I also decided to buy a new succulent, and make the effort to care for it properly so it can flourish.

This may be the first step… but I’m using it to move forward, and not backward. And maybe tomorrow I’ll take another step forward, too.

Film Review: The Call of the Wild (2020)

Dir: Chris Sanders
Starring: Harrison Ford, Terry Notary, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, and more.
Rating: PG
Runtime: 1hr 40min
Spoiler Level: Light! Book spoilers are noted.

As a self-admitted former wolf girl, one of my favorite books growing up was The Call of the Wild by Jack London. However, my introduction to the legendary tale of a dog named Buck was actually through the Great Illustrated Classics version, which are “softer” adaptations of classic novels. Much later, in high school, my love for the story was reignited when I finally read the original and was able to better appreciate the sharper edges of London’s story.

download (1)When I saw the trailer for the new film, I was skeptical – and not only because the CGI was a little sketch upon first viewing, and the rating for the film was not indicative of the novel’s contents. And yet, I felt that pull – that inner, long-dormant wolf girl instinct – to see it. So I was there on opening night, in a totally full theater, and, inevitably, I was in tears by the end.

The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck (Notary, via motion capture), a massive St. Bernard / Scotch Collie mix who is abducted from his pampered life in California, taken to the frigid Yukon, and sold as a sled dog at the height of the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush. Thrust into a new world much harsher than the one he’s known, Buck must adapt to life in the unrelenting north as he grapples with his wild instincts, establishes himself as a powerful leader, and forges a life-changing bond with a lonely, troubled man named John Thornton (Ford.)

Buck’s adventure is a thrilling one, as audiences watch him go from the spoiled pet of a respected judge, to a broken, lonely outcast, to a defiant and capable leader, and a stalwart, beloved companion. The supporting characters – mainly the human ones – come and go from his life at various intervals, and each teaches Buck unique lessons. He learns the “law of the club,” from his captors, teamwork and duty from postal workers Francois and Perrault, folly and greed from Hal, Mercedes, and Charles, and asserting dominance from his husky rival Spitz, who, I realized upon watching, is literally Steel from Balto. But amidst these lessons are over-arcing themes, many of which are rooted in London’s original novel, such as the brutality of nature, grief and loss, and survival against the odds. And, of course, there are familiar cliches and predictable moments, but it’s a family film, so that’s no surprise.

This film truly shines when it features Buck’s growing relationship with John Thornton – the most notable and important friendship that Buck forms. Buoyed by an evocative performance by Harrison Ford, it is clear from the first harmonica exchange that the bond between grizzled man and dog is going to be special. Thornton and Buck come together at a vital stage in each of their respective journeys, at the exact time when they need one another the most, as Thornton is inspired by Buck’s resilient spirit, and Buck is drawn in by Thornton’s genuine kindness and companionship. Watching their stories combine, and seeing their love for one another grow, is peak “man and his dog” goodness and delivers, if I may, “all the feels.” I didn’t think Harrison Ford and a CGI dog would pull on my heartstrings as much as it did, but boy, it did.

I felt the tears spilling down my cheeks as the film drew to a close – against my expectations, I had formed an attachment to the characters in the film, boosted by my already existing love for the story. The finale, the vital moment where Buck answers that call and embraces the instincts that have been subtly guiding him toward his ultimate journey’s end, is wholly satisfying, if bittersweet.

The visual effects for the dogs are a little cartoony – as is Dan Stevens as the mustachioed, villainous Hal, who also entirely shoulders the villain role in the stead of minor novel characters, but that’s not the fault of effects – which will certainly bother some viewers. I appreciated Buck’s overall “look,” as he didn’t look like a wolf, which is the erroneous direction other adaptations have taken. I didn’t find myself distracted by the effects too much, as I was fully engaged in the story, and impressed by the beautiful environments and backdrops. But I also sat through the entirety of Cats, so take from that what you will. Additionally, the score by John Powell is exceptional and is already on my playlist.

Fans of Jack London’s original work will, of course, note the obvious omissions from the source material. This film is not what I would call a “faithful” adaptation. Much of the violence – and the brutal, if realistic view of “survival of the fittest” – has been toned down, likely to appeal to families and younger audiences. Not to spoil a 100+ year old story, but particularly grisly elements (***SPOILER ALERT*** such as Buck killing Spitz, Francois taking an ax to a rabid dog’s head, an entire team of sled dogs drowning after falling under breaking ice, and a negative representation of Native Americans ***END SPOILER***) are either completely absent, or have been “softened” to suit a PG rating. And while I love London’s stark portrayal of the life of a dog in the cold, cold north, and I respect the era in which it was written, I personally didn’t mind the changes in this version. Many of the original themes – nature versus nurture, the enduring relationship between man and dog, and the pull of primordial instincts, etc. – remain important touchstones to the story, even if they are shown in a different way.

Sometimes, The Great Illustrated Classics version of a story – or the PG film version – can open the gateway for a young reader or film-watcher to someday experience the original work, and glean an entirely separate appreciation from it when the time comes. For that reason, this tamer version of The Call of the Wild has earned my full admiration.

Overall rating: 8/10